Sylvester Stallone is not as stupid as he usually looks, often sounds or sometimes acts. Among other bits of evidence, he is smart enough to know how to mock his machismo and extend his action-hero career.
The Expendables 2 opens Friday with the 66-year-old Stallone serving as co-writer and co-star. Self-deprecating humour abounds, befitting for a geriatric thriller featuring Stallone with pals and former screen rivals Arnold Schwarzenegger, Dolph Lundgren, Chuck Norris, Jean-Claude Van Damme and Bruce Willis. They make the "upstart" cast members such as Jason Statham, Terry Crews and Jet Li seem like kids.
The backers of The Expendables 2 are openly marketing the absurdity of it all. "That thing belongs in a museum!" Stallone cracks in the Expendables trailer as he eyeballs an old wreck of an airplane. "We all do!" Schwarzenegger retorts.
The in-joke is that Stallone is already part of a museum display. I was there in 2006 when The Italian Stallion donated his boxing gloves, and other memorabilia from Rocky, to the Smithsonian's National Museum of American History. "I knew I was getting old but I didn't think I'd be with the dinosaurs so soon," he joked in the ceremony.
In a one-on-one interview later, Stallone showed off his self-realized insight as we discussed how he personally looks at Rocky vs. Rambo. "I have an overactive cornball gene that I can't repress," Stallone admitted as he talked up his series finale, Rocky Balboa. Like Rocky, Stallone said he loves to talk, even philosophize. "I know some people wouldn't think that," he offers, realizing that people mistake him for his action roles. Like the brute in Rambo. "It's a performance!" Stallone says. "I'm more the other guy."
At the time, Stallone was preparing Rambo IV: In The Serpent's Eye, which finally come out in 2008 as Rambo. We debated whether he should do it and both agreed he should not. Stallone candidly admitted, however, he was obligated by contract to finish the series. So he did, to avoid lawsuits. Also smart, although the awful movie makes him look stupid.
As for his manner and speech pattern, Stallone was born-and-raised in New York's Hell's Kitchen when the rough neighbourhood lived up its name. Despite trying to get a good education, he suffered from a learning disability. Yet, in every interview I have had with him over 30 years, Stallone showed off a real flair for expression. This week on Good Morning America, it was no surprise to see him discussing his son Sage's recent death with such grace.
Looking back, it is no coincidence Stallone's Hollywood career was empowered through screenwriting, although he was forced by starvation to sell his Paradise Alley script for $100. Then he wrote and starred in the Oscar-winning Rocky. Stallone was personally nominated as best actor and for best original screenplay.
Stallone said that Rocky still resonates because he represents hope to underdogs, like himself, through "the idea that maybe you can not be born with all the assets in the world ... but, through perseverance, you can achieve goals. It's a subject that has always fascinated me."
Stallone perseveres, which is why he can survive the crappy movies he has made (along with the good ones). "You gotta understand," Terry Crews said of Stallone this week, "Sly is a force of nature."